People responding to wedding invitations this summer should not be surprised if they're asked how they want to pay: check or charge? Engaged couples are tossing traditional registries faster than bouquets, asking for cash instead of Cuisinarts. Some lovebirds set up money registries, looking for "donations" to help defray the costs of the wedding or a mortgage, while others solicit cash for honeymoon expenses.
Nader Khoury and his fiancee are pioneers in the money-for-marriage movement. The couple put a down payment on a house with all the money they collected from guests they directed to a personal Web site set up for that purpose in August 2002.
"We got $10,000," says Khoury, "but it was a new concept then. Now it's a trend and there's less of a stigma to it."
He should know. Inspired by their own success, Khoury and his bride launched www.aperfectweddinggift.com, an online money registry based in California.
"It's typical American philosophy to think it's crass to ask for money, and a lot of people still feel that way," he says, "but in Asian countries and in the Middle East that's what you do."
Sue Fox, author of Etiquette for Dummies (Wiley, $21.99), agrees. "Other cultures give money and it's not a big deal. I think we have to lighten up. Etiquette changes with the times."
Clearly, shelling out is catching on. The number of couples registered at Khoury's site has quadrupled in just two years, from 254 in 2003 to about 1,000 for this year.
The honeymoon registry www.thebigday .com made its debut in 2001. It had just a few dozen clients that first year but has recently added a travel agency service. "We've had tremendous growth," says Jeff Beard, director of business development. "We have over 12,000 clients in 86 countries now. It's becoming a 21st-century tradition."
With the price of the average New York wedding now a whopping $38,000, industry watchers say it's no surprise some couples are asking for dollars instead of dinnerware.
But while many Americans are comfortable contributing to a honeymoon registry, which allows them to "give" the newlyweds an activity like scuba lessons, the so-called money registry, where guests help pick up the tab for the wedding itself, leaves a bad taste.
Antonia van der Meer, editor-in-chief of Modern Bride magazine, says: "You don't want the guests to feel like they're paying a cover charge. You are the host and inviting them to your party, they don't owe you anything."
"It's also dangerous for couples to assume they'll reap enough cash to pay for something," she warns. "It can lead to overspending."
Valerie Lehman, who got married a year ago, felt awkward about wanting ka-ching instead of kitchen knives. "It was my third marriage. I owned enough stuff," says Lehman. "I didn't feel comfortable saying, 'Give us money,' so we set up a Web site to fund our honeymoon. I asked for money for spa activities and to swim with the dolphins."
Like Khoury, her experience inspired her to launch www.registrypalace.com, which helps engaged couples solicit honeymoon help.
Not everyone applauds the development. Josh Brooks, a partner at Fete, a wedding planning firm based in New York, says, "Money registries are practical. On the flip side, it's nice to get something that's a keepsake, something that lives with you."
Letitia Baldrige, author of New Manners for New Times: A Complete Guide to Etiquette (Scribner, $35) and former social secretary to first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, is more blunt. "This is the crassest thing I've seen in all my years of social observances," Baldrige told the New York Daily News. "It's like a runaway horse, this idea of guests paying. It's horribly wrong."
But brides like Lehman would disagree. "My honeymoon was fabulous," she says, "and it was free!"